Photo Credit: USGS ecologist Collin Haffey leads a session on fire ecology. Caption: Forest Stewards Guild

For over 20 years, the Forest Stewards Guild’s Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) program has employed youth ages 16-19 from throughout New Mexico to work on natural resource projects that directly benefit their communities, including projects that address wildfire risk. Many of our crew members’ communities have experienced wildfire in the recent past. This year the Guild had six crews, including one based in the Mountainair Ranger District of the Cibola National Forest. This summer the Dog Head Fire burned 17,912 acres and 56 structures in the Mountainair District and adjacent lands on the eastern flank of the Manzano Mountains.

Every Guild YCC program kicks off with a three-day training. The 2016 YCC training included a session on job skills (interviewing and professionalism) led by a USDA Forest Service career and Pathways program specialist, and a session on wildland firefighting 101 led by members of the City of Santa Fe Fire Department. This year we also included home hazard assessment training. Crew members assessed structures within a campground and learned about factors that influence the loss of homes in a wildfire, such as the accumulation of pine needles on rooftops and flammable debris near structures.

A session on fire ecology, led by U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Collin Haffey, provided context for the on-the-ground work crews would complete throughout the summer, such as fire line construction and fuels reduction projects. Collin emphasized the important (and necessary) role that fire plays in fire-adapted ecosystems. Recognizing fire’s role in creating resilient ecosystems is a foundation of a fire adapted community.

During the Dog Head Fire, the Mountainair crew dug 0.5 mile of fire line and reduced hazardous fuels at recreation areas. Following the fire, the crew was able to tour some of the burned areas. It was a great opportunity for the crew to reflect on what they had learned about fire ecology, fire adapted communities and the role of fire. Program participants are now empowered with knowledge and recommendations that they can bring back to their homes and their communities for reducing the risk of losing homes in the next wildfire.

In addition to many other natural resource management accomplishments, our six crews prepared 4.5 miles of fire line, removed 48 acres of non-native trees, and prepped and marked boundaries for 10,500 acres of fuels treatments.

This summer’s program didn’t just prepare the YCC crew members to work in natural resource management—it prepared them to help their communities become more fire adapted.

For a complete list of 2016 accomplishments, visit

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